Thursday, October 29, 2009

Flooo Masking

Hello readers.

It seems one can't escape from the H1N1 Flu mania while working at a public school here in Korea. I am sure you are sick of hearing the stories and opinions. Probably agreeing with how crazy they overreact here and why can't the citizens of this country practice good hygiene to begin with.

Let's pretend that you are the Principal of a public school. I would suspect your job is to protect the children and staff at your school from this "crazy" virus. What measures would you take?

You could shut down the school till all the sick victims have recovered.

You could give out hand sanitizer bottles to all the classrooms. Make the teachers educate the kids on washing their hands and covering their mouths when they sneeze or cough.

In general it is your duty to protect the health of your pupils and staff so that the learning process can truck on without hindrance.

At my school, from my observation, the Principal has been implementing his Flu prevention program not because he genuinely cares about the student's or the staff's health but for public relations sake.

How do I know? The Principal installed hospital grade hand sanitizer stations in the hallways on every floor in the school. It is an automated device that when you put your hands in they are sprayed with sanitizer. Also he provided every classroom with sanitizer bottles just in case.

But did that stop the virus? Does dousing your hands in sanitizer every chance you get really a way to stop the virus?


Last week 17 kids came down with the virus at our school. Spread out amongst the grades these kids were sent home, and a few classes were told to stay in as well.

Did the school close?


The teachers were told to tell the parents that the school has installed these fancy hand sanitizer gadgets and that their kids would be safe. And that we all wear masks (not true) and wash our hands frequently.

I was told by my coteacher that he installed these gadgets because he wants his school to be the first in the district with them. In other words he is caring more about his image than the actual health of his pupils.

It's pathetic if you asked me, but doesn't come as a surprise. My last day is tomorrow so I don't have to take his hypocrisy anymore.

All in all, though it makes me wonder how many more schools are reacting to this flu thing as a way of boosting their career image. In fact when I think about it I am sure the private schools are using whatever "protective" measures they enlist at their schools as PR campaigns advertised to the mothers. Yet we have to remember that this is how things function here and how they have worked for a long time.

In the end, this is just another cultural difference to add to the pile. It is also one that can't be reasoned with. Like so many cultural differences we expats experience out here many are left like unsolved mysteries. Thankfully and hopefully the leftovers of all this hysteria is a more "germaphobic" society.


  1. Love reading your blog! My school has also finally upped their hygienic policy. Now I see kids using hand sanitizer like it is a new toy! Thank God!!

    Good luck with the move btw.

  2. The principal at my school also had fancy schmancy sanitizing stations installed. There is still no soap in the bathroom but at every entrance there is a grand looking station with flowers and sanitizer. I've asked many times for soap in the bathroom, but I know it will never come.

    The kids aren't being told about covering their mouth when they cough and sneeze. I spend a few minutes in ever class going over that and explaining the best I can why they should do it.

    I once tried to explain to my co-teacher how the flu is a virus that is spread mostly through particles in the air. You could douse the building in sanitizer but if no one was covering their mouth, then it wouldn't help at all. She's a smart woman and still didn't understand that. I have a feeling the media also makes it seem as though clean hands is the only way to protect from the flu.

    And my school isn't sending sick kids home. One student yesterday passed out. I thought he had just fallen from his chair but it turns out that he'd had a fever for days but wasn't allowed to stay home because of exams this week. I was angry about this because a fever is nothing to mess around with.

  3. :) Thanks everyone.
    Boy it does take a few times to tell the coteacher something. I hope it's the language barrier and not my theory that they don't have critical thinking skills.

  4. Critical thinking skills are not an integral part of Korean education. In fact, they are discouraged as much as possible. In a Confucius society, developing the ability to analyze and think critically about things is discouraged. I've sat in on a few classes in my school (not English ones) or just generally eavesdropped and they are taught in a very authoritative way. Recitation and memorization prevail. It's frustrating for us because we are taught from birth to think for ourselves. I think Koreans struggle so much with foreign languages because language acquisition is something that must be done critically. It requires analytical skills and those just aren't part of the mindset.

  5. That's really disappointing to hear that your school's principal seems more interested in "show" over "safety". I wonder how much of it comes from a personal decision and how much of it comes from 'institutionalized bureaucracy' * -- doing as little as possible to avoid a headache but making a big show of going through the motions to appease everyone.

    I am sure the private schools are using whatever "protective" measures they enlist at their schools as PR campaigns advertised to the mothers.

    Fortunately, I haven't noticed our academy making a big deal out of protective measures. Then again ... we've always had soap in the bathrooms! :D

    * Anecdote time: I used to work at a public library, and not long after starting I noticed that our foreign language section had books filed under the "Cambodian" language and, further down the aisle, the "Khmer" language. When I brought up that these are different names for the same language and should therefore be filed together (under one name or the other) I was told that it would be "too much work" and it was better to leave the books alone.

    I encountered that a few times and it always bothered me. Oh, a book on "Birds of the Amazon" filed under the "Belize Travel" dewey decimal code? Gee, we should move that to the birds section or the general South American travel section. But no, that would require sending the book to the service center, updating the computer database, printing new labels, sending it back, etc., and that's just "too much work". 아이고.

    Maybe some institutions - say, schools and libraries, for example - are more geared toward that than others?

  6. There is something to be said about costs vs. benefits, In the Acorn's story, once a library has placed a book in the system, it almost seemed to change it than the effort is worth.

    As for the 'no soap in the bathroom'? I'm trying to avoid the completely cynical approach, but perhaps the principal thinks 'the kids won't use it' or 'it doesn't do anything to make me / the school look better'. And yes, people are out to make themselves look good at each and every turn they can - not just Koreans.

    As for critical thinking, yes, it's definitely something that hasn't been taught to the locals. And yes, it really does have to be taught. Creativity is another thing that has to be taught, or at least given time to develop. There's no time for either if your years in school are spent memorizing and reciting things you'll forget the next day.

  7. Joy, here in Sunnae the schools have been closed all week. They've just returned today. I know in Alex's school the principal didn't fool around, as soon as he found out there was flu in the area he was sending out announcements/warnings yada-yada-yada. It didn't make the flu go away but I feel that he did try. They are back in school today and all parents received text messages that if their kids are the slightest bit sick they are not to come to school, no ifs ands or buts.

  8. Thanks DTI... hmm it is good to know that from your perspective the procedures are protecting your kids and helping you feel safe. I hope you and your family aren't afflicted by this flu.

    ~anyways if you want to get together anytime soon lemme know !


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